In the verbal battle for supremacy between East Coast chefs and West Coast chefs, someone once said that the Californians and their eponymous cuisine weren’t really about fancy technique, that they were more about “really good shopping.” Is that a slam? Hey, the Cali kids are just super lucky to have amazingly fresh ingredients basically throwing themselves into the pot all year long—so lucky, in fact, that they don’t really have to possess any skill? That smacks of jealousy, a sentiment we in the frozen North might find lurking in our hearts. But maybe it was more than that; maybe it was an admission and epiphany that while technique is necessary, allowing the essential beauty and elegance of an ingredient to take center stage over said technique is something altogether interesting on its own. Isn’t that, in and of itself, a skill? A technique?
I bring this up because the chef at The Lynn on Bryant knows something about all of this. Peter Ireland has a pedigreed past, working in high-falutin’ kitchens under technique-driven chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Paul Kahan, and Tom Colicchio. But he also has a more recent past as one of the obsessives at Great Ciao, a locally owned import business that finds great ingredients for chefs and restaurants. You love your Jasper Hill Harbison cheese or can’t get enough harissa and farro? Who do you think brought those into the city? So Ireland has seen and worked in both camps, under the rule of technique and with the siren song of ingredients. Maybe that’s why his place is so interesting.
Ireland chose to get back to the stoves and open a restaurant with his pal Jay Peterson, a bookseller at Magers & Quinn. They’ve turned the back slice of the formerly burned-out Patina building on 50th & Bryant into a slick, modern eatery in which the kitchen seems to be in its own little fort. The front room is casual and café-like while the back room is a quieter, more intimate affair, but it’s all brightly lit and hit with orange accents and bare lighting. Hoping to serve the neighborhood in as many ways as possible, it does coffee and breakfast, lunch, a formal and café dinner, and takeaway. All out of a space that boasts about 50 seats.
Now, back to the fort. The thing about Ireland and the food that he’s putting out in this little neighborhood joint is that it’s balanced and respectful. Dishes from the small menu are thoughtful and composed, but not in an overly showy way that would blindside your appreciation for the ingredient or the dish. Your breakfast of soft scrambled eggs delivers an unbelievably silky, almost custardy mound of eggs with hearty companions of house-cured ham and tangy goat cheese. It is the concert of all three that makes this a winner. Soft-boiled eggs come with toast batons (for the dipping, you know) that are these little cubed sticks of crisp fried bread that make a runny egg yolk even more unctuous, if possible.
There is a casual humility in these dishes that tends toward the French, though stays on the rustic side. A little pastry-clad mushroom, potato, and goat cheese tourte, a French pie, is a richly flavored small bite next to a mound of greens. Croque Monsieur and Madame sit in messy elegance on the plate, oozing Gruyere and the house ham from buttery-edged griddled bread. The Lynn burger with béarnaise sauce and fries was a small hockey puck, but it delivered on medium-rare doneness and flavor, though the house English muffin wasn’t the best supporter for it. Chickpea fries were amazing one time and a mushy mess another.
Dinner brings some more formal executions, starting with a lovely fricassee of escargot in which earthy nubbins of snails are generously ringed by garlic and parsley purees. The bite and the swipe through the purees has a dark richness that is at the same time herby and light. A baby pumpkin filled with chestnut custard might seem fussy and precious, but it really comes down to a luxuriously nutty bite that balances with the sweetness of squash when pulled together. And then a simple grandmotherly dish, chicken grand-mère, which seems wrought from the Boulud days, plays just as well here with a gorgeous light crackle to the chicken’s skin next to a satisfying mix of potatoes, lardon, onions, and mushrooms. It’s humble in presentation, surprising in depth of flavor. Dessert has yielded plates of Earl Grey and lavender cookies, warm chocolate cake, and a little baba rhum bomb that is boozy to the right degree.
The spot has not yet been overwhelmed by lines out the door, unlike the just-around-the-corner George & The Dragon, and I must assume that it’s hard to get a read on exactly what a modern-looking joint is doing with some Frenchified dishes. But once people find that Ireland dish that gives them a moment of pause as they recognize the complexity in the simplicity, that’s when the loyalty will be born.
5003 Bryant Ave. S., Mpls., 612-767-7797, thelynnonbryant.com